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According to Eurostat data, from 2020 to 2021 over 200.000 more children in the EU were driven to the brink of poverty. This brought the total number of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion to over 19.6 million – or one in four. These figures will likely increase considering the compounding social emergencies witnessed in the last few years. While the situation varies from country to country, and some groups of children are even more exposed than others, the result is always the same; children’s rights are not respected, protected, or fulfilled. Even temporary deprivation experiences can have devastating consequences for a child, lasting a lifetime, if not generations.
Integrated early childhood development policies and services as a tool for reducing poverty and promoting social inclusion
In particular, the early years of a child’s life are crucial in determining children’s physical, mental, social, and emotional development. Inequalities are typically established at a very young age, negatively influencing their life-course opportunities, well-being, and health. Acting as early as possible is thus crucial in ensuring that each child can reach their full potential.
Comprehensive and comparable data is necessary, at the country and European level, to inform policy-making and public spending on early childhood, so that all children can have the best start in life.
Despite widespread recognition that children’s early years are fundamental for their lifelong healthy development and well-being, and should be a priority for governments and policymakers, our work in partnership with the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) in the context of the First Years, First Priority campaign clearly shows a scarcity of data – especially for children under three. Comprehensive and comparable data is necessary, at the country and European level, to inform policy-making and public spending on early childhood, so that all children can have the best start in life.
Also on the Forum Network: Measuring What Matters for Child Well-being and Policies by Olivier Thévenon, Chris Clarke & Gráinne Dirwan
How can we harness comprehensive and timely data for policy-makers to design effective child well-being policies?
Integrated early childhood development policies are the most effective tool for reducing poverty and promoting social inclusion. The European Child Guarantee is a key instrument to help make this a reality. The Child Guarantee asks Member States to have the best interest of the child as a primary consideration, and to provide an enabling policy environment which comprehensively addresses child poverty and social exclusion. This requires an ecosystem of policies and support measures to ensure a fair start for every child in Europe.
All children, including children living in extreme poverty, Roma and Traveller children, children in (or at risk of entering) alternative care, migrant and refugee children (including those who are undocumented) and children with disabilities should have nurturing care from the start, and access to quality essential services including quality early childhood education and care (ECEC), social protection, work-life balance and employment policies, adequate minimum income, safe and secure housing and access to maternal and child healthcare. Specific and targeted interventions are needed to reach the most marginalised young children and their families.
Investing in Europe starts by investing in children, families and communities, from conception, through infancy and children’s first years of life.
Increased support and public investment in nurturing care and quality early years services are essential for tackling child poverty, inequality and social exclusion. The Eurochild (In)visible children report on children in need across Europe, compiled by 35 Eurochild members across 22 European countries, also stresses the importance of early intervention and the prioritisation of ECEC as part of the solution. There is a substantial body of research that demonstrates the positive effects of high-quality ECEC on children’s outcomes. The quality of ECEC provision is highly dependent on the professionalism, competence and commitment of staff working in the sector - it is therefore particularly important that there is continued support for staff training and development, more recognition of their essential role and enabling working conditions.
A stronger social Europe
Governments and EU institutions must continue to support and strengthen a Europe based on solidarity, dignity and non-discrimination for all young children and their families, by turning political commitments into tangible measures to eradicate child poverty.
There is a need to continue supporting and promoting a social Europe based on the EU Pillar of Social Rights, with increased ambition on the target to fight child poverty given that over 19.6 million children were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU in 2021. Investing in Europe starts by investing in children, families and communities, from conception, through infancy and children’s first years of life. This is crucial to achieve social cohesion and inclusion, alongside growth and prosperity - now and in the longer term. The European Pillar of Social Rights, namely Article 11 on childcare and support to children, should seek to reinforce Member States’ existing commitments to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights treaties.
With European Parliament elections in June 2024 and a new European Commission appointed soon after, Eurochild and its partners will continue to campaign for all children to have the best start in life.
Learn more on the OECD work on Children
Our work on children and child well-being helps countries design policies that ensure every child can have the best possible start in life. We monitor progress on child well-being outcomes and provide policy assistance and advice to make sure children have the opportunities they need for a bright future.